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Luke Walton fired as Kings coach after slow 6-11 start to season

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 19: Head coach Luke Walton of the Sacramento Kings looks on during a time out in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors at Golden 1 Center on November 19, 2021 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

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There is pressure from Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive in Sacramento to make the playoffs and end the team’s 15-year postseason drought (tied for the longest in NBA history).

Luke Walton paid the price for that pressure — Walton has been fired as head coach of the Kings, according to multiple reports. The move came after the team dropped 7-of-8 and fell to 6-11 on the season. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news (other reporters have confirmed it).

The Kings made it official and promoted Alvin Gentry to interim head coach.

Walton’s job was threatened last season as the team stumbled, but his strong relationship with general manager Monte McNair, and two fully guaranteed years on his contract, saved him. That was then, this is now. Rumors of Walton being on shaky ground were floating around. It somehow seems fitting that Walton was fired after what will be remembered as the “vomit game.”

When Gentry was hired by the Kings back in October 2020, there was a sense around the league that the reason was to have a veteran coach on the bench who could step in and replace Walton if he were fired. However, McNair ultimately may want to put his own stamp on the franchise and hire a new head coach rather than just stick with Gentry.

Gentry is considered an offensive guru, but that is not the end of the floor that has the Kings in trouble. Last season Sacramento had not only the worst defense in the NBA but the worst defense statistically in NBA history. This season they have “improved” on that end to 25th in the league.

Walton was fired because of more than the defense, but all the problems were not Walton’s fault. McNair ran it back with the same imbalanced core of a roster, and same coaching staff, that went 31-41 last season. De’Aaron Fox has not taken a step forward and become the All-Star/All-NBA level offensive force the Kings thought he would be; he still does not look comfortable in the halfcourt. Tyrese Haliburton is good but hasn’t taken a step forward in his second season. The core of this team seems stagnant, and that’s more about the front office than it is the coach.

Mid-season coaching changes can lead to a short-term bump but rarely mean serious change, the problems are often more systemic. However, there are exceptions — Nate McMcMillin in Atlanta last season, for example — and the Kings are banking on that with Gentry. Maybe he can get the team to flirt with .500 and the play-in tournament all season, but it’s a big ask, even in a West that is down this season.